MANILA — Vice President Salvador Laurel today announced he will not continue as foreign affairs secretary and is breaking all ties with President Corazon Aquino, citing fundamental differences in fighting the communist insurgency and saying the nation is "like a house on fire."
Several hours later Aquino announced that she had accepted Laurel's resignation "with regret." He remains vice president, and said he would not align himself with the opposition.
Laurel, who had joined with Aquino in 1986 to oust Ferdinand E. Marcos, complained that his role in the government was too small and he urged Aquino to purge "communist sympathizers" from her administration.
Laurel, 58, said he told Aquino during a two-hour meeting at the presidential palace earlier in the day that he was quitting because he did not agree with her anti-insurgency campaign. The communists have been fighting the government for 18 years.
"Our nation now is like a house on fire," Laurel said. "You must attend to the immediate attention of getting water to put the fire out."
The Yale-educated lawyer gave up his presidential ambition and rallied the then-divided opposition behind Aquino when she ran against 20-year ruler Marcos in the Feb. 7, 1986, snap election. The fraud-marred election led to the People Power revolution that swept Aquino to power 18 days later.
Laurel claimed Aquino told him before the snap election that she simply wanted to serve as "an instrument" to oust Marcos.
Aquino's announcement came hours after Laurel told reporters the Cabinet resignation he handed in a week ago was "irrevocable." Aquino asked for the mass resignation of her 30-member Cabinet following an Aug. 28 coup attempt, the fifth and most serious challenge to her 18-month-old government.
Speaking on government television, Aquino also announced she had accepted the resignations of Finance Secretary Jaime Ongpin and the commissioners of customs and immigration.
All of the resignations last week were effective upon Aquino's acceptance.
Foreign Chief Named
Although Aquino had said she would make all new Cabinet appointments at the same time, she designated retired Gen. Manuel T. Yan as acting foreign secretary to replace Laurel.
Aquino said more changes would be announced shortly. She gave no clue on whether she will retain Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo, whose ouster is demanded by the military, the church and business leaders because he is seen as sympathetic to the communists.
Aquino said her anti-insurgency policy is a "combination of military offensive, respect for democratic processes and support for economic programs that will uplift our people."
"It is as clear as I can make it," Aquino said.
Bigger Coup Possible
But Laurel said more must be done. "My reading is that if the insurgency problem is not attended to properly, it will get out of control," he told reporters.
He said this will result in a coup of a "bigger scale." Laurel said that despite promises from Aquino that he would play a significant role in running the government, he was pushed aside from the start.
"I felt I was an outsider looking in," Laurel said, adding he was never consulted on major policy decisions.
"I told the president the resignation I submitted to her is real," Laurel said. "It is not a courtesy resignation." Asked if he would refuse any other Cabinet post, Laurel replied, "Yes."
He said he reminded Aquino that she promised to make him prime minister, allow him to run the government and wield final authority over selections of one-third of the Cabinet.